Russia has reportedly sparked a “mad panic” as it evacuates a city near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant before an expected Kyiv offensive — with the UN’s nuclear watchdog warning a “severe nuclear accident” could occur.
Analysts have said for months Ukrainian forces may assault the southern Zaporizhzhia region in a spring counteroffensive — especially if they aim to split the Russian position and choke off a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula.
But fighting around Europe’s largest nuclear plant next to occupied Enerhodar, a city of about 50,000 people, could be disastrous.
Russia-installed regional governor,Yevgeny Balitsky on Friday ordered civilians to leave Enerhodar and 17 other communities — implying hostilities may worsen, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi said over the weekend.
“I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant,” Grossi said. “The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”
None of the plant’s six reactors are operating. But the station needs a constant source of power to keep its essential cooling systems online and prevent a catastrophic radiation disaster.
A Russian serviceman guards in an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control, southeastern Ukraine, on May 1, 2022. AP
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant from the town of Nikopol, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine during November 2022. REUTERS
Meanwhile, the evacuation had already begun Sunday, according to Ukrainian officials.
Thousands of cars are fleeing the Zaporizhzhia region, and the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, said there were five-hour waits, according to the BBC.
Shops in evacuated areas had run out goods and medicine, he wrote on Telegram. Hospitals were discharging patients into the street because they fear losing water and electricity if Ukraine strikes, the BBC reported.
Long lines of traffic greeted those looking to flee the Zaporizhzhia region after Friday’s evacuation order. Ivan Fedorov / Telegram
Evacuations have also begun in Enerhodar, home to many who work in the plant, according to the IAEA.
The operating staff remained as of Saturday, Grossi said, adding the situation has led to “increasingly tense, stressful and challenging conditions for personnel and their families.” he added.
On-site nuclear experts have also heard regular shelling, he said.
The Russia-installed governor of the occupied area ordered the evacuations, leading many to think hostilities could increase. Ivan Fedorov / Telegram
It’s not the first time the watchdog organization has worried about the safety of the nuclear plant, the BBC noted.
In March, the IAEA said the plant was keeping its cooling systems running with diesel generators because power lines had been knocked out.
“We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequence for the population and the environment,” Grossi said. “This major nuclear facility must be protected.”
With Post wires. SOURCE
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